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A Russian first deputy premier arrived in Antarctica on Tuesday
A Russian first deputy premier arrived in Antarctica on Tuesday to look into air transport problems facing polar researchers and to check the Glonass satellite system's operations in low temperatures.

Sergei Ivanov's trip is the first high-profile Russian visit to the ice-covered continent, where several countries including Russia have scientific research bases.

The minister, accompanied by the transportation and natural resources ministers and other senior officials, will inspect a runway carved from ice at Russia's Novolazarevskya polar station - one of five year-round research facilities Russia runs in Antarctica - and talk to researchers.

Regular flights from Cape Town, South Africa, to Novolazarevskaya were resumed in 2001 after a 10-year break. Many of the Russian planes used for aerial survey, as well as personnel and cargo deliveries, which have continued uninterrupted for 53 years, are in need up updating or replacement.

Russian researchers recently begun using off-roaders or rented a U.S.-built DC-3-BT67 Bassler aircraft from a Canadian air company for trips within Antarctica.

The head of the United Aircraft Corporation said at the station that the corporation could replace the transport Il-76 now used for regular 4,120-km (2,560-mile) air contact between Cape Town and the Russian scientific base with a more modern aircraft with greater flight endurance, and build several Il-114Ts with ski-equipped landing gear.

Alexei Fyodorov said the aircraft could be supplied in 2011.

Although the use of Antarctica is currently governed by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty which bans sovereignty claims to the continent, the United States and Russia have asserted the right to claim Antarctic territory in the future. Russia has also been active in the Arctic, where last year two mini-subs made a symbolic eight-hour dive beneath the North Pole to bolster the country's claim to right to a large swathe of seabed believed to be rich in oil and gas.

During his visit, Ivanov is also expected to check the Global Navigation Satellite System, equivalent to the U.S. GPS, at work in cold weather conditions.

Earlier this year, Ivanov criticized Glonass for operational shortcomings, saying the satellite cluster does not provide 100% accessibility to Glonass services throughout Russia's territory, and that precision levels do not meet modern requirements.

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